Yesterday I discovered that I continue to be criticized and mocked for encouraging our church family to be open to God’s manifest presence and power. As I’ve thought about it, I believe the real offense is that God actually has shown up and revealed his love, truth and power in ways that are unfamiliar and even uncomfortable to some. The vast majority of those that I have the privilege to serve have relished this recent powerful move of God in our midst. And why not? People are being baptized with the Holy Spirit’s love, joy and power! Many are being healed physically and emotionally! Many have been set free from enemy strongholds! People love God and his Word like never before!
Anyway, back to being the object of malice and slander…whenever this type of thing happens to me I have to decide how to respond. This is important because how I respond determines my character and ability to be further used by God. Most everyone’s natural response (including my own) is either to defend and attack back or withdraw in whatever way is necessary to get out of the heat. Jesus makes it clear that retaliation is never to be a disciple’s mode of operation. So that’s out. Equally illegal is to stop obeying God in order to appease the attacker.
So both revenge and backing off are not the ways a disciple is to respond to attack. Jesus takes things even further when he says that we are not to hate our enemies, but rather we are to love and pray for them (Matthew 5:43,44). That seems crazy and impossible! Only God could command such a thing because he also is the only one who can empower us to do it.
It is striking to me that Jesus’ own example and his instruction to his disciples are to “move on, let it go and keep going for it” when attacked for the sake of the Kingdom. I love the story of Jesus’ ministry in his hometown of Nazareth that illustrates this;
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “…Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them (Mark 6:1-13).
Notice that Jesus’ friends and family from Nazareth were offended because they only knew Jesus in the natural and were unfamiliar with the manifestation of his supernatural wisdom and power. Incredibly Jesus did not remain with them in order to defend himself. What he did do is very instructive and encouraging to me:
1. He took his message and ministry that was offensive to them to many other villages.
2. He commissioned his disciples to spread the word and works of the Kingdom further as well.
3. He prepared his disciples for what they should do when (not if) their message and ministry was not received. Leave them. Let it go. Keep going for it.
Jesus would not allow the doubters and the offended to re-define his or his disciple’s ministry. We must do the same. Jesus would not be distracted. Neither can we afford to be. In every revival Jesus “shows up” in ways that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable to everyone in one way or another. God is so “out of the box,” especially the boxes we try to keep him in! The temptation still exists to become offended by that which confronts our comfort zones. When this is not recognized and dealt with from the heart, the fear and discomfort a person feels often turns to rejecting the move of God and attacking those proclaiming and being transformed by it. I’m sure this saddens the heart of God. In Nazareth Jesus was amazed at his critics’ lack of faith.
I too feel sad and amazed at how brothers and sisters in the Lord can rationalize their unharnessed fear and anger that often manifests as malicious gossip and slander. By God’s grace I will never give in to this divisive temptation that so grieves the Spirit of God. By God’s grace I will love and pray for my enemies. By God’s grace I will never stop proclaiming his Kingdom and asking him to “show up” as he has promised in his Word. I will not let fear or the pain of persecution determine my destiny, for I trust the One who loves me. I am not ashamed of the good news that “God has placed his Kingdom within our reach.” I am proud of Jesus and all that he has done and is doing.
And with many others I cry out to God, “More Lord!”